Saturday, March 05, 2005


Gonzo journalist, James Campion, once coined the term celebrity monster (taking the example of Ann Coulter) to describe public figures who are recklessly committed to publicizing themselves. James Guckert, the right-wing cipher, who was waved through normal Secret Service screening and routinely given a reporter's Day Pass at White House briefings, was recently revealed as an imposter. He carried off this ruse for two years, having amateur experience and no training

Any kind of background check would have revealed that he had led another, and rather sordid life, as an escort who hired himself out to other men. He was a figure of a different kind in Washington, inside the Beltway, so to speak. And he was a shameless self-publicist who posted nude photographs of himself on a few websites. But as soon as he could pass security at White House briefings, he would take his seat in the press gallery, under the assumed name of Jeff Gannon.

He attracted attention to himself as a kind of obvious political operative, whenever the President's spokesman, Scott McClellan, needed an accommodating question from the press corps, to escape a grueling line of inquiry.

So Gannon, alias Guckert, would lob sweet confections, so-called "softball questions", in the direction of the constantly inept Press Secretary. The Guckert who would be Gannon was glaringly phony because his questions were invariably biased, and in some cases were extracted from administration pamphlets, that were only slightly amended.

The accounts in our progressive journals focus on the levels of artifice that lie beneath the surface of this fake reporter.

After his first few weeks of winging it, Jeff Gannon had managed just fine on his own. Veteran reporters could only bite their tongues, as Gannon got the nod from McClellan, the Press Secretary. Gannon must have felt redeemed, when an internet site, Talon News, provided him with window dressing, perfunctory credentials, some weeks later.

When inquiring minds looked into who was backing Gannon, or paying him, they got as far as Talon and its founder, Bobby Eberle.

As reported by Media Matters, "Talon News apparently consists of little more than Eberle, Gannon, and a few volunteers." This same report also mentions a companion website, a partisan outfit and brainchild of Eberle, called GOPUSA, and sketches the political history of the Talon staff, describing them primarily as Republican activists. It mentions that Gannon (A.K.A. Guckert) and Eberle are associated with Free Republic, the right-wing website, where they post.

Guckert met his Waterloo on January 26th of this year, when the President gave him the nod for a question. The sudden limelight seems to have overwhelmed the man, and his Gannon mask was seen for the mask that it is. Guckert's question was so fawning and partisan that it tripped off every warning light on the press corps' collective dashboard. Our best bloggers began their own energetic investigations and uncovered this mess.

Certainly, this is not the time to write the Epilogue to the affair, because this scandal is ongoing. Guckert, after all, is something of a loose cannon and an exhibitionist; and since scuttling away in disgrace, he has quickly returned to court the attention he craves. But the sad thing is, that if this were only a scandal about a clumsy administration's transparent effort to manipulate the news, we would be more inclined to hope.

Of course there is danger in the abuse of power; but up till now our press has confronted other administrations, and found the courage to stand its ground. Maureen Dowd is right too, when she describes the "Bushies" as being more sinister. Hating the press was enough for other administrations, she says, but this one wants to "reinvent the media".

The tragic emphasis of this scandal falls squarely on our traditional newspeople, our major newspapers, and the news organizations of our major networks. This administration is striking at them, trivializing and marginalizing them, evading the questions they ask, providing minders at party events to put a chill on their sources, and compromising the necessary work of reporters. This undermining is as effective as a threat, and really, it is a kind of threat.

When Edward R. Murrow was preparing his famous telecast that exposed the tactics of Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, the purging and blacklisting of writers and artists, he suddenly found his own staff chastened and reluctant. But he summoned their courage and snapped them back to reality, when he suddenly exclaimed,

"The fear is right here in this room."



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